A Nobody

December 5, 2021/2nd Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-6

Last Sunday the message from Jesus was, be alert; be on guard.  This week, John the Baptizer tells us to prepare.  Prepare the way.  Get ready for the main event, because Jesus is coming.

Now you and I both know it’s a lot easier to prepare for someone if we know exactly when they’re coming.  If guests are planning to stay overnight with me, I’d like to know which night.  I’d like to be sure I’ll have fresh linens on the bed, groceries in the pantry, and a dinner menu all lined up.  Christmas, we can prepare for.  We know exactly when it’s coming around again.  December 25, whether we’ve finished our shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating or not.  When we’re waiting for the actual birth of a baby, we have to deal with approximations and guesses, but we know exactly when birthdays will roll around.  We can plan for that.

But this preparation that John is talking about?  That’s a different story all together.

And maybe we should think twice about listening to this oddball preacher, anyway.  He doesn’t wear a robe and stole, or even a nicely pressed pair of dress slacks and a white button-down shirt.  He runs around in the wilderness, for God’s sake, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs.  Just how much trust should we give him?

The gospel writer must have known people would have their doubts.  He sets John squarely among the nobodies following a long list of somebodies.  Political leaders like the Emperor Tiberius, Governor Pontius Pilate, and Herod, ruler of the region of Galilee.  He even mentions Herod’s brother Philip and Lysanias, rulers of little known regions outside Galilee.  John can’t even measure up to the priests Annas and Caiaphas.  He is, Luke tells us, the son of Zechariah, and he lived in the wilderness.

John was a nobody.  He was a nobody who preached to a people who had “suffered starvation, violence, barrenness, captivity, exile, colonization, and genocide.  They were, in countless ways, the wretched of the earth.”[1]  To that despairing, hopeless people, John preached a word of robust hope.  He preached “muscular hope in a God who cares.  A God who vindicates.  A God who saves.”[2]  And people listened!  “Something about the wilderness experience birthed in them a capacity for profoundly life-changing hope.  Salvific hope.  Hope beyond hope.”[3]

Presbyterian pastor Brian Coulter tells about a man who experienced acclaim as a speaker and writer who lived his latter years in Fort Worth.  Denver Moore grew up as a sharecropper, working on a plantation and living most of his life in a small southern town.  One night he decided to “jump a freight train and ended up in Fort Worth without a job, without a home, and without much hope.  … He felt like he was a nobody.  He internalized that status.  He lived with that belief that sprung from his lived experience in this world.”[4]

Denver Moore was a nobody, but he found his voice on the streets of Fort Worth and found himself transformed into a voice of hope for others like him who had lost everything or never had anything to start with.  His message was simple.  “Just tell ‘em I’m a nobody that’s tryin’ to tell everybody ‘bout Somebody that can save anybody.”[5]

John the Baptizer was a nobody like Denver Moore.  In the account in the Gospel of Luke, “the folks who wield power don’t hear God, but the outsider from the wilderness does.”[6]  The message John shares with the people – and with us – is a message of hope in the midst of the worst time in their lives.  It is a call to prepare – to get ready – to receive the most precious gift imaginable.  A gift of grace.  Of peace.  Of salvation.  Get ready, because Jesus is coming.

“John forces us to examine ourselves and our world.”[7]  He calls us to look deep into the dark corners of our lives, to examine our values and our priorities.  Repent and prepare, John tells us.  Prepare to walk through a “door to forgiveness.”[8]  As the ancient North African church father Tertullian wrote, “repentance should … prepare the home of the heart, by making it clean, for the Holy Spirit, who was about to supervene.”[9]

The repentance John calls for opens the way for us to move forward in hope.  Having repented – let go – of the sins that weigh us down, we are set free.  “We’ll find comfort in the fact that we don’t have to pretend to be perfect anymore.  We don’t have to deny the truth, which is that we struggle, stumble, and make mistakes, and mess up.  We can face the reality that we are fallible human beings, prone to wander, and incapable of living up to our own ideals.  And – most importantly – we can fall with abandon and relief into the forgiving arms of a God who loves us as we are.”[10]

Maybe, like the crowds who made their way into the wilderness to go under the waters of John’s baptism, we can listen for this strange man’s words of hope.  And just maybe we can share his message with the rest of the world.

“Just tell ‘em I’m a nobody that’s tryin’ to tell everybody ‘bout Somebody that can save anybody.”

[1] Debie Thomas, “A Voice Crying,” journeywithjesus.net, 28 November 2021

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brian Christopher Coulter, “2nd Sunday of Advent,” Presbyterian Outlook, November 29, 2021

[5] Denver Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me

[6] Thomas

[7] Kathy Beach Verhey, Feasting on the Word C/1, 45

[8] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Feasting on the Word C/1, 48

[9] Ibid.

[10] Thomas

One thought on “A Nobody

  1. The last words in your message reminded me of my early school days. One of my early English teachers told me that the word “nobody” was the wrong use in my paper. No one should be used in every case. Great quote! Merry Christmas.


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